Why you need to tackle the Mackay Highlands Great Walk this year
With a hand on my heart, I can tell you I am a terrible mathematician. My dog has more spatial awareness than me. And in keeping with this list of things I am terrible at – we might as well add long hikes and outdoor activity to the pile.
I’ve got legs like Gimli and about as much poise, precision and balance as a potty calf. Seriously, just wait ’til you see me on the dance floor!
But throw in the right amount of persuasion (*cough* red wine), a bit of training and a new pair of fuchsia hiking boots, and even I can be outdoorsy.
When the opportunity arose to put my curiosity and cardio to the test in the Mackay Highlands Great Walk, I was in, boots and all. But not for conventional reasons…
I wanted to go all Louis Theroux on this hiking trail, to find out what possesses people to walk for days on end, carrying all their gear, fuelled only by water and International Roast. I didn’t get it.
It only took three days, nine friends and one night camping under the stars, to find the appeal – and boy, do I get Great Walking now.
Move over Jenny from the Block, this is Hannah from the Highlands with five reasons to put the Mackay Highlands Great Walk on your to-walk list.
1. It’s puuurrrddy
The dessert world has Adriano Zumbo and the National Park world has the Mackay Highlands Great Walk. It’s bright, vibrant and damn-right mind-blowing the way its landscape changes at the turn of a gravel track. This National Park has to be one of the unsung heroes in Queensland, with age, beauty, and platypus all on its side.
Forget what you know about the sugarcane capital – Mackay’s Highlands are so radically different to its namesake city, you might as well bring a passport to travel the 80 kilometres that separate the two.
Aside from having its highest peaks constantly kissed by clouds, Eungella National Park has more talking points than its eternal fog.
Did you know it’s the oldest and longest sub-tropical rainforest in Australia? And that the 56km of Great Walk track cuts straight through this ancient rainforest wonderland?
Think Jungle Book landscape, minus Baloo and you’re starting get the Highlands picture. Reason enough to lace up you hiking boots and see what I mean about towering palms and fern gullies.
2. Accommodation is easy
Meet Ranger Greg. He’s the tough guy standing in this picture.
When he’s not looking after the Highlands, he’s leading 28-day walking trips across the Simpson Desert, through blistering hot days and freezing cold nights. You get the picture – he’s as tough as the hiking boots on his feet – but even Ranger Greg admits that he likes this Great Walk the best. Pray tell, oh wise-walker.
“As much as I like camping, hiking and bush cooking , I’m not adverse to a warm bed, hot shower and a cooked meal after a day on the trail, but don’t tell anyone I said that.”
He is on point. Unlike some these other Great Walks in Queensland, the Highlands holds the trump card, with the option of accommodation the whole way. ‘Pure luxury’ in the Great Walk world.
If you aren’t convinced about hoofing it with your tent, bag and clothes on your back a la garden snail, Broken River Mountain Resort will look after your accommodation, meals and transfers each day, so you can pick up where you left off and enjoy all of the creature comforts.
After a couple of glasses of red at Possums Table – Broken River Mountain Resort’s restaurant – it’s easy to see why this walk is so appealing.
Of course, if you intend on Bear-Gryllsing it and carry your own gear, make the QPWS website your friend. You’ll need to book your campsites and vehicle passes before you set off.
After all, the only person who uses the statement “failure to prepare is preparing to fail” more than my gym instructor is Ranger Greg, who gets called in when bushwalks go wrong.
3. It’s simple terrain
Mount Dalrymple, one of Queensland’s highest peaks standing at 1227 meters, might rise straight through Eungella National Park, but don’t let a topography map of the area put you off this walk folks.
The 56km of terrain here is (almost) completely flat, because you’re walking along the top of the Great Dividing Range, not climbing it, especially if you complete the walk from north to south.
Being a relatively flat and semi-graded track, this is an excellent introductory walk for first timers or those with a penchant for flat conditions.
Trust me, the views across Pioneer Valley and Mackay’s sugar cane plantations will take your breath away much faster than the hike will.
3. It’s not scary
If you were scared of everything on the news, you’d never leave the house. If you were scared of anything you could potentially come to face-to-face with in Eungella National Park, you’d certainly miss out on this Fern Gully.
Scary walk, this is not. There’s no terrifying rock scrambling, vertigo-inducing escarpments or crocodiles lurking here. About the only things you’ll encounter in the creepy crawly department can be met with a solid spritz of DEET or scared off by loud footsteps.
My tip is to layer up your insect repellent, wear long socks and get going. The National Park world is unparalleled nature – you just have to let yourself get into it.
4. The highlands have good food to sate a mountainous appetite
You might be miles from the sparkling lights of a CBD, but food and coffee up the range is not to be sneezed at.
The walk kicks off from the backyard of the Eungella Chalet which serves pub grub, decent coffee, and epic views over sugar cane plantations to boot.
From there, there’s only 10km between you and the best Swiss food this side of Bern, at Broken River Kiosk. Just ask owner Oskar to yodel for you when you order the Yodel Burger.
Of course, you can bring your own food up the mountain or have your walk catered from Mackay. We opt for the latter, and Our Kitchen at NE Foods looked after hiking lunch and snacks.
From fresh wraps, pasta salads and paleo muesli bars to dinner feasts of prawn and chorizo skewers and lemongrass chicken kebabs, we weren’t slumming it in the food department.
5. Fresh air is good for you
A smart person could start a business bottling the fresh air in Eungella and selling it to deprived city mice. It’s Evian fresh, crisp and filtered through the photosynthesis of trees that are millions of years old.
You can set your watch to the fact you’ll wake up to the sound of whip birds calling and fall asleep with frogs humming from the river beds. Breathing it in feels good for the soul.
Consider the walk a free health retreat. It’s my happy place and I’ll be back.
Thinking of tackling the Highlands to hike it yourself?
All major airlines fly into Mackay Airport, where you can hire a car and hit the road to the Great Walk.
The choice is yours. If you carry your own tent, food and equipment, you can hike and camp from woe to go. Camping permits must be purchased from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and start from $5.95/night.
For those happier to end their day with a hot shower and a glass of pinot, Broken River Mountain Resort is the way to go. Rooms start at $120 per night and they offer pickups and drop-offs throughout the journey, and packed lunches for hikers.
Put Finch Hatton Gorge on top of your list if you want to see cascading waterfalls and epic rock formations. It’s not technically part of the Great Walk, but it’s an easy detour. Don’t forget to pack your swimmers – a dip at the top is irresistible, especially after climbing some 300 stairs to the top!
Of course, if the promise of ferns, panoramic views and swimming holes doesn’t blow your skirt up, there’s always 10 more Great Walks in Queensland to choose from.
*Please note the temporary closure of all Queensland campgrounds in national parks, state forests and state-managed recreation and protected areas, in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.